CHARLOTTE – Reynolds senior Anna Vess is a two-time defending 3-A state champion, but she’s about to learn the true definition of “cross country.”
Vess ran the McAlpine Park Greenway course Saturday in a personal-record of 17 minutes, 40 seconds. By finishing 10th overall in a Foot Locker South Regional race comprised of high school runners from 15 different states, she qualifies for the Dec. 12 Foot Locker national meet in San Diego.
Vess is the first Western North Carolina girl to do that since Carolina Day alum Laura Stanley in 2002.
The all-expenses paid trip to California will not only be Vess’ longest-ever trip, but first plane flight.
“I’m just really excited,” Vess.
“The race went pretty good. I started out towards the front and it was really hard at the end. (Flying for the first time) is going to be interesting, I guess. I’m just excited to have the opportunity.”
Vess recently committed to N.C. State, choosing the Wolfpack over Furman and Princeton.
She repeated as the NCHSAA 3-A champion on Nov. 7 and has been not only running since then, but competing for the Rockets swim team.
“I went on a visit to N.C. State and really liked the people and the campus,” Vess said.
“They gave me a good offer. I’m happy about it.”
Vess was undefeated against WNC competition this fall, sweeping the Buncombe County, Mountain Athletic Conference and 3-A Western Regional meets.
Vess’ coach at Reynolds, David Honea, ran in the 1986 Foot Locker national meet as a senior at Enka. He and Vess are believed to be one of the first, or the first-ever North Carolina coach and athlete combination to qualify.
“One of the things about being in Western North Carolina is we don’t see the rest of state that much, so you have no idea where you stand,” Honea said.
“Looking at the region, we had some ideas from the times. Based on the region, there were about 20 girls faster than her. But Anna won so many races this year by a minute or more, so I thought she would be able to hang with them.”
McAlpine is the standard distance for high school cross country (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles). Vess’ time on Saturday was about a 10-second improvement on her previous best.
“People thought this might be the best South field ever,” Honea said.
“She went out really hard, and when those top-10 girls broke away, Anna was with them. This is going to be a great opportunity for her. And with her signing with N.C. State, I think it’s going to be exciting for her to get to know a lot of (the national caliber) girls that she is going to run against. It is a real fraternity.”
The Rockets are expected to hold a college signing ceremony for Vess next week.